This years trip to Eurobike 2015 was jam packed with business related activities. The business started with meetings in Milan before a visit to Lake Como. While the meetings are important, it would be sinful not to make time to enjoy the beautiful scenery, culture and culinary delights that Italy is well known for.
Milan was always the starting point for this journey, but with a few days spare the challenge was whether to make a bee line for the Dolomites or explore another area close by.
Perhaps the clincher was the fact that George Clooney may be in the Lake Como area. I had a bone to pick with Clooney. How can you possibly promote coffee in a pod for crying out loud?! Its sacrilegious. And to think he can show his face in a land that is known for its people who appreciate and intricacies and craft of brewing a real coffee.
From Milan Centrale station it was a pleasant 45 minute train trip for 4 Euro to Como Giovanni station. I didn't have a bike with me, but had seen others with bike bags traveling easily enough. Traveling to a tourist area during August in Italy did mean my middle of the train had a high number of younger people (perhaps students) and families heading to Como for relief from the City.
Traveling without a bike meant hiring one and my research suggested Hotel II Perlo Panorama was the best option on Lake Como. The research was proven right when I arrived at the Hotel, located approximately 6km from the centre of Bellagio. With a growing fleet of 16 mid-higher end aluminium and carbon road bikes, I settled on a stead and was off to explore for a few hours.
When I first arrived at the region I had two thoughts: 1. Its green and 2. Its hilly. So taking off from the hotel meant a fast decent towards Bellagio or a climb. I opted for the immediate climb and it was solid. Gradients sitting at 14% were greeted with the odd reprieve. The hardest part was to not look over my shoulder at the amazing views - but those views were to get better with height and the returning decent.
Riding on a Sunday afternoon was incredibly pleasant. The sound of cutlery clinking against plates and children playing meant that many families were preparing to sit to a meal. In Italian culture, bringing La Familia together for a meal is as important as it comes. The wafts from kitchens made it very tempting to dismount and wander into a random dinning area. Alas, there was more riding to be done. When passing the more grand looking establishments I yelled out to check if George was occupying the building 'Are you there Clooney?!' No answer.
After exploring a bit more, searching for George and also getting lost a few times, I returned to Hotel II Perlo Panorama to be greeted by Carlo. As a third generation owner of the Hotel and instigator behind the bike hotel concept, he was the best person to speak with about cycling in the region. We sat to a coffee and he explained the journey since 2008 in helping promote Lake Como as a cycling destination.
On a sunny Sunday, Carlo told me its not uncommon to see 1,000+ keen Milanese cyclists riding the flat section from Milan to head into the hills. That 100km+ round trip is a popular one as it allows riders to be home in time for the family. The growth in Hotel bookings has come from English, American and even Australian riders. In fact, nearly 12 per cent of cyclist bookings are from Australia.
The number of repeat customers is on the rise as well. With tailored packages that can include a guide (highly recommended and all six guides are ex pros!), masseuse, specific food should you be taking your training and diet very seriously or, conversely, you may want to partake in the Italian wine tasting evenings.
After learning more on the history of the Hotel, we discussed the riding. The area is blessed with options ranging from 60km up to 150-200km monster days with quiet roads bearing little traffic. Of the more impressive loops, you can depart Argegno to climb from the Lake to the Italia-Swiss border.
Its common during certain periods of the year to see the likes of Cadel, Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali training near the Swiss border. With the riding on offer, you can see why the have settled in the area. Perhaps what separates Lake Como from other cycling destinations though, is that its very family friendly. Food, shopping, adventure parks and other activities are available - particularly during the summer months.
Soon enough, the area will be a destination during cooler months, with plans to host mountain bikers on the growing network of trails and mtb park. Again, its probably worth exploring with a host, at least initially to become familiar with the network. Another feature offered in 2016 will be training and an increased offering for group bookings during the Tour of Lombardy (the fifth classic affectionately known as the race of the fallen leaves due to its time of the year).
As we finished the chat I quipped that the area really is God's country. Without pause, Carlo replied that 'it's not God's country, its cycling country'. That it is my friend!